Uber operates in around 300 cities.
Photograph by Bloomberg via Getty Images

As Uber continues to push for route efficiency, it's taking inspiration from public transit.

By Kia Kokalitcheva
August 24, 2015

When it comes to ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft, the conversation is often about how they’re an alternative to traditional cabs, but in reality, they’re also an alternative to public transport.

Uber’s latest feature test is proof that the company knows that. Dubbed “Smart Routes,” the new feature, first spotted by TechCrunch, lets passengers hop on a ride along specific routes for a cheaper fare, much as they would with a bus. Uber is quietly testing this along a couple of popular corridors in San Francisco as part of its carpooling service, UberPool, the company confirmed to Fortune.

“We have begun testing a new feature to streamline the UberPOOL experience for both riders and drivers. This experimental feature, called ‘Smart Routes’, aims to simplify pick-ups by encouraging riders to request a ride along specific routes in San Francisco. Smart Routes is part of our ongoing efforts to increase the efficiency of driver-partners’ time spent on the road while helping riders save time and money,” and Uber spokesperson said via email.

Though it’s new for Uber, the idea itself isn’t. San Francisco startup Loup’s entire model does precisely that, letting passengers book a seat in a black car driving a long a specific route (though they change now and then depending on demand) and hop in when it arrives. Chariot, another San Francisco startup, provides private shuttle busses for commuters around popular routes that passengers can book for two or three times the price of a bus ticket (but with some added amenities like wi-fi). Even Uber and Lyft have been playing around with other features focused on centralizing passenger pick-ups in exchange for lower fares, like Lyft’s HotSpots for its carpooling service, and Uber’s suggested pick up spots.

Uber — and Lyft — has been putting a lot of resources into its carpooling service, and Smart Routes are just a different version of it.

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